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Why Email Bankruptcy Will Change Your Life

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Nothing kills a pleasant vacation buzz like 1,042 emails waiting in your inbox.

That’s why, after my last vacation, I declared email bankruptcy. Translation: I deleted everything.

My first encounter with email bankruptcy was inadvertent. I only discovered that a former colleague had deleted all the email that came in during his vacation because his boss told me I had better send him another one. It seemed sort of sneaky at the time.

But now that Lauren Young, a journalist and editor with Thomson Reuters (and another former colleague), has coined a catchy term for getting rid of all those messages, so-called email bankruptcy is out in the open. Respectable, even. “There’s something so liberating about going into your inbox and deleting it all,” Young said.

It’s not as if Young’s creditors are caught completely unawares, as I was the first time I encountered email bankruptcy. Her autoreply gives an alternate contact. It warns correspondents that due to the expected volume of email upon her return, she may declare email bankruptcy. She links to a story in Fast Company where she’s quoted speaking about email bankruptcy, so people know what it is. She encourages people to get back in touch when she’s back in the office.

Like a lot of tricks for managing email, this one has the unfortunate side effect of making someone else do more work. Someone managed to remember to send me an email, and actually sent it, and now I was telling them they had to email me all over again. Is that fair? “It’s totally fair for vacation,” Young said. “It’s so hard for people to really manage to unplug,” and then when they get back, they’re punished with the deluge of email.

While some might find temporarily solace in trying to keep up with their email even while they’re supposedly on vacation, a raft of studies detail the health risks of our “always-on” culture, especially to those who can’t seem to put down their smartphones.

The first time Young attempted email bankruptcy, she tried to finesse it. Her autoreply said that “due to the expected volume of email,” some messages might be “lost in the shuffle.” She’s not pretending anymore. “I’m done,” she said. “I’m down for the count. I’m starting fresh.”

Almost no one commented on her first email bankruptcy. “I didn’t ask or tell people. I just did it,” she said. “No one said, ‘You’re a b*itch and I can’t believe you’re doing it.’” None of the higher-ups at her company minded. Her boss mentioned it in a meeting, but not in a negative way.

That’s the thing I found so shocking about my first (and so far only) attempt at email bankruptcy: Nothing happened, except that I got a whole day of my life back when I realized I wouldn’t be spending it sifting through email. I did scan my inbox to make sure I didn’t miss anything important. Maybe the truly bankrupt wouldn’t have done that, but since this was my first try, I was a little nervous.

Who shouldn’t do this? Well, Young says, you shouldn’t try this if your boss expects you to be at his or her beck and call 24/7. Then, I pointed out, you’ve got bigger problems. “True,” Young said. “But plenty of people work for crazy people.” Here’s hoping you’re not one of them — and that a little bankruptcy makes your next vacation a bit more relaxing.

This post was originally published on One Thing New.


#Organization #Vacation #Email Lifestyle
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The idea of blindly getting rid of all my new emails seems terrifying but well worth the plunge. Anyone else have tips on best practices before and after "declaring bankruptcy?" Any horror stories?

I don't think I would ever do this! I think it's important to unplug, but maybe make an effort to your regular emailers stating that you will be out of reach and save the email's until next week. That way, it looks like you're trying to help their schedule too. Also, you're going to have to deal with those messages at some point, what's the difference between letting them sit in your inbox while on vacation, and deleting them all saying to resend them later?

Just reading this article gives me anxiety. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to do this. But instead I go through emails as they come in and either delete them right away or put them in folders. That way I don't have to spend hours at the end of the day sifting through emails.

Carly Heitlinger
Carly Heitlinger

This is horrifying! I really can't imagine deleting emails without even sorting through them... What helps me feel better about my inbox is doing a "clean sweep" and deleting extraneous emails. Anything junk or retail related or social notifications gets deleted. Then I go through and see if there are work emails that are no longer relevant– reading through the whole thread is important as sometimes you'll find that the issue has been resolved... or you'll find out that you are the bottleneck!

Taking an afternoon to respond to emails that need responding to is worth it. You'll feel caught up and ready to get back into the real work!

This is a really interesting idea - I am not sure I could do it myself though, but I do think what is important about the message of this article is that we need to unplug every now and then and not be so attached to our technology 24/7, because it can really be detrimental to our health and wellbeing.

I could never do this. I have a fear of deleting any email so I can't even imagine deleting every email. I think its important for peace of mind when you get back into the office to have read everything and feel prepared for what's next.

Isaac Middleton IV
Isaac Middleton IV

I agree with you Maggie! I don't think I would delete emails blindly. I would let all emails stay in my inbox until I return from my vacation.

It's so important to unplug every once in a while, to try and get in touch with life excluding the constant stream of emails entering your inbox. So I love this idea! Of course, it would be difficult for most people to "declare bankruptcy," but I think once need to check your phone every minute wears off, this tactic would prove beneficial.

I really love this idea! It is scary to do, but I think it would be very nice to just unplug and start over. But with that said, I don't think I could do it. I do however would like to go through my email and delete the many that I no longer need.

Great post. So helpful. I may try it at some point when I reach the 1000 emails :) Thank you!!

Danielle Fritz
Danielle Fritz

I loved the article but I really enjoyed reading all the comments here! You can tell we are all type A personalities and overachievers because nearly every person said, "I couldn't do this, I'd have anxiety if I missed something." And of course I fall in that category too, but it is interesting to think about why we all have such a mental block against simply deleting everything. Maybe it's the having to rely on someone else to email us again if it is truly important, instead of our usual "I can do it! I'll just work harder" mantra.

I do NOT think I could or would do this. I';m not expected to be "at the office" 24/7 but I have regular people (i.e. not colleagues or partners) that depend on replies from me. What I do though is sort of similar. I know, as I'm sure most of us do, that there are certain subject lines, email senders (lists...), and other "not really spam" mail that clogs up my inbox upon the return from a vacation or other out-of-office time. I will search those emails and blindly delete them all. I know there may be some tiny chunk of sort-of important info in some of them but most go unread anyway because of the intense amount of email I get daily.

Think of my version as a bankruptcy 'light'. :)

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